The term “helicopter parent” was first coined in 1969 when Dr. Haim Ginott used it to describe parents who, well, hover over their kids. Almost 50 years later, the term has earned a place in common vernacular, code for parents who govern every aspect of their kids’ lives. It’s more than a bad habit with a catchy name: parents who always look over their kids’ shoulders may be unwittingly preventing them from practicing emotional and behavioral control on their own. Studies suggest that children who are constantly watched and protected by helicopter parents are ill-prepared to cope with stress. It’s a dangerous approach.
As such, a lot of parents have become more keenly aware of when they’re “helicoptering.” However, there’s a whole other level to helicopter parenting that’s arisen. One in which parents use subtle, seemingly harmless helicoptering tactics that fly under the radar. Consider it “stealth helicopter parenting.” And it’s as dangerous as standard hovering. Here are some of the signs of which to be aware.
You Constantly Help With Little Things
If you see your child struggling to tie his or her shoes, do you jump right in and do it for them? No big deal, right? Actually, it is, say the experts. Performing difficult tasks for children instead of letting them do the tasks themselves sends the message that they aren’t capable and not competent. “Show that you have confidence in your child when they are trying to do something,” says Leslie Petruk, director of the Stone Center for Counseling & Leadership, “and stay connected and supportive without rescuing them.”
You Rush to Fix Negative Emotions
When your child feels anything negative, do you quickly rush in and try and make them happy? While no one wants to see their child upset, the fact is that frustration, anger, and sadness are all a part of life and learning to navigate (and regulate) emotion is an important life skill. By not letting your kids feel these emotions and work through them, you are inadvertently stunting their emotional growth. “It also undermines the natural resilience that children have in overcoming challenges and learning to deal with the normal life experiences,” says Petruk. “These children are often the ones who have a difficult time leaving the nest or becoming self-sufficient adults.”
You Organize Their Backpack
It’s one thing if your child is three, but once they hit middle school age, you should let them take the reins and try and handle their backpack, schoolwork, extracurricular activities without your input. “Part of child development is the constant mastery of skills, which change as children grow,” Petruk says. “Just like when learning to ride a bike you often fall off and get back on and keep trying, trying out new physical and emotional skills is part of learning and helps children learn perseverance, confidence, and skills that will serve them for the rest of their life. Healthy parenting involves staying connected to your child in their frustration and distress while supporting and encouraging them without always doing ‘for’ them.”
You Handle Conflicts with Their Peers
Intervening in a bullying situation is one thing, but when you step in to resolve conflicts between your child and his or her friends, you’re doing them a disservice. It again sends the message that they don’t know how to resolve things, which can cripple a child’s confidence and self-esteem. Additionally, Petruk says, it can create feelings of embarrassment and disgruntlement. “As children get older they may begin to resent this and stop sharing challenges with their parents,” Petruk says.
Your Kids Never Take the Blame
Is everything someone else’s fault? A teacher, another child, another parent? If you never let your child accept responsibility for something and accept their role, then they will start to believe that their actions don’t have consequences. However, this kind of thinking will only last for so long, and when they end up in the real world, where they will be held accountable, they won’t know what to do with themselves. “This can also lead to depression and anxiety,” says Petruk, “as children may begin to question their own competency and feel insecure about their ability to deal with normal life challenges.”
You Do Their Schoolwork For Them
OK, let’s tell the truth here, have you ever found yourself working on an essay, quizlet, or project for your child? And have you ever told yourself that the only reason you’re doing it is because they’re so overworked and busy? Tell yourself whatever you have to, but the truth is, you might be helping in the short term (i.e. getting the assignment in on time), but you are doing major harm in the long run. This kind of behavior will completely alter your child’s perceptions of how tasks and assignments should be handled and will leave them completely unprepared for adulthood, when similar lifelines may not (and should not) be available. “They may begin to believe that everyone should do things for them rather than doing for themselves,” says Petruk. “This can lead to a lot of challenges later in life and make it difficult for them to engage in healthy relationships as an adult.”
You Interject in Your Kids’ Conversations
Every parent wants to feel like they’re connecting with their kids and that they have a good relationship with them. But if you’re jumping in on a conversation that you weren’t a part of to begin with, or making comments about your kids friends or social situations, you’re crossing the line. “It makes everyone uncomfortable and often times is overstepping their boundaries,” says Petruck. “It can also lead to a misunderstanding when they are not aware of the full context of the conversation.”
You Argue With Their Coaches
Like a lot of stealth helicopter tactics, this one might come from a place of wanting to do what’s right for your kids or advocating for them when it seems no one else is. However, Petruk says that whenever you argue with any authority figure, whether it’s coaches or teachers, over your child, it sends a number of messages, including leading kids to believe that their parents know better than they do. “This type of parenting is a form of control and often results in one extreme or the other,” says Petruk. “A child who tries to control others or a depressed/anxious child who turns it inward instead of outward.”